A Short Treatise Inviting the Reader to Discover the Subtle Art of Go

by Pierre Lusson, Georges Perec, Jacques Roubaud, published 1969

Translation and introduction by Peter Consenstein

The world of Go is fortunate to lay claim to a book as charming as A Short Treatise Inviting the Reader to Discover the Subtle Art of Go. This treatise somehow manages to walk the line between a serious examination of the game while not taking itself seriously. I love this book as both literature and instruction manual.

The book’s duality leads to my one criticism of the book: it does not have much of a rhythm. Some parts feel somewhat pedantic, other parts are concise. Take this explanation of the game’s goal as an example:

The goal of Go is not to place, displace, or capture stones, but rather to outline and then consolidate, with the aid of these stones, vacant spaces, regions formed by unoccupied intersections that black and white endeavor to control until their adversary concedes them: the “definition” (demarcation) of territories constitutes the very object of the game of GO.

This is one of the most lucid explanations of the game I have read.

I am not an expert in Oulipo texts, but I do understand that they are not necessarily written to convey a linear thought. Playing Go is much like navigating the world; our reason for being doesn’t bind to logical analysis. So why should a book on Go be written in a linear way?

I choose my own path through the book and I’d recommend the same for anyone. The translator’s introduction should perhaps be saved until after the “0. Celebration” chapter, the “1. Rules” chapter, and the Go puns from the “3. Saturation” appendix. Only after these three sections would I recommend reading the translator’s introduction. I’d finish the book with “2. Elementary Tactics and Strategies.”

A Short Treatise Inviting the Reader to Discover the Subtle Art of Go is a gem. It’s a must for anyone who sees themselves at the intersection of Perec and Go. It is both a time capsule of the moment when Go arrived in France and a refreshing look at the ancient game.